Flying wings were not strictly the domain of the Americans and German during World War 2 (1939-1944) for the British also shared an interest in an all-wing system due to the inherent benefits of such an aircraft. These benefits included long endurance (due to more internal volume for fuel stores), strong lift principles, and an expanded ordnance-carrying capability. Its various programs culminated in the Armstrong Whitworth AW.52 flying wing concept which - though it was never ordered for serial production - furthered British research in the flying wing field through the program's two completed prototypes (TS363 and TS368). Armstrong Whitworth began design of its flying wing during 1943.
Work on the AW.52 series was preceded by the all-important, unpowered, two-seat AW.52G glider form which was towed to altitude and utilized in evolving various aerodynamic concepts related to the finalized AW.52 jet-powered mounts. First flight of the glider occurred on March 2nd, 1945 - months before the war in Europe would come to a close. in time, and with its useful days behind it while also suffering from extensive deterioration, AW.52G was eventually scrapped.
Taxi trials of the jet-powered model then began in April of1947 (World War 2 ended in 1945). The first airframe example became "TS363" and this aircraft featured a forward-set, two-seat cockpit with limited canopy framing for excellent viewing. The fuselage was made up by the short frontal section which then contoured into the broad area of the main body which also made up the wing units. A twin turbojet configuration was adopted for the necessary power and the engine of choice became the Rolls-Royce Nene of 5,000lbs thrust each. The engines were installed in a well-spaced side-by-side arrangement within the main body of the aircraft, aspirated through intake openings found at either side of the cockpit along the wing leading edges. The main wing assemblies were well-swept along their leading edge and for a portion of their trailing edge. A straight section of trailing edge was featured at the engine exhaust ports and area making up the tailless "rear" of the aircraft. Near each wingtip was added rounded vertical fins for stability. The undercarriage was wheeled, retractable, and of a modern tricycle configuration. Martin-Baker ejection seats were installed as a precaution.
First flight of TS363 was recorded on November 13th, 1947 and it was showcased during Farnborough 1948. TS363 showed itself to be a solid, if underperforming, aircraft though not without issues due to the advanced nature of the wings in play and the design structure as a whole. Much work was undertaken to remedy its various stability issues though pilots were still required to show the mount some serious attention at the controls. As with all flying wings of the period, the AW.52 was just as dangerous to its pilots as it would have been to any enemy it faced as a military fighter/bomber.
In May of 1949, TS363 was lost when turbulence generated uncontrollable oscillation that forced its pilot to safely eject, The aircraft, however, was a total loss when it crashed. The incident also marked the first life-saving use of a Martin-Baker ejection seat in the UK.
TS368 became the second - and last - aircraft of the series. This airframe was of a different design goal as it was developed specifically for research into low-speed handling and control. To restrict the speeds required, mechanics installed lower-rated Rolls-Royce Derwent turbojet engines. First flight of TS368 was then recorded on September 1st, 1948.
TS368 retained the same design lines as the TS363 though some subtle changes were added to help counter the deadly oscillation effects. Speeds were not only restricted by the choice of engine but also in practice out of sheer safety. Testing continued into 1953 to which then the program was eventually given up. The surviving airframe was then used as a target in weapons testing and lost to history. Such ended the Armstrong Whitworth AW.52 program.
As completed, the aircraft featured a length of 37.3 feet, a wingspan of 90 feet, and a height of 14.4 feet. Empty weight was listed at 19,660lbs with a loaded weight near 34,150lbs. Maximum speed was reported at 500 miles per hour with a range out to 1,500 miles and service ceiling of 36,000 feet. Rate-of-climb was measured at 4,800 feet per minute.
The AW.52 was not considered for military service and therefore never trialed with weapons. It contemporaries were the famous German Horten Ho 229 jet-powered fighter-bomber of 1944, the Northrop XP-79 rocket-powered fighter of 1945, and the Northrop YB-49 prototype of 1947.
It was not until the development of key technologies that a military flying wing was finally realized in the Northrop B-2 "Spirit" stealth bomber of 1997 - the culmination of Jack Northrop's work in flying wings that spanned decades.
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